Some 100 friends, family, and community members demonstrated in front of the Buena Park police station last Saturday afternoon to demand a re-trial for Jesus Arturo Aguirre, a now 19-year old who was sentenced to life in prison last year.
In March of 2010, Jesus Aguirre was arrested by Buena Park police on charges of the attempted murder of Ramon Magaña, who had been shot at with a shotgun with birdshot ammunition. Magaña, though, who suffered bruises and non-life threatening wounds, testified in court that Jesus was not responsible for the shooting. Ramon’s mother and sister, who witnessed the shooting, also stated that Jesus did not participate in the crime and was not present during the incident.
Detective James Woo and the District Attorney that handled the case stated in court that they knew Aguirre was not the shooter, but instead they continued to classify him as a gang member and argued that Jesus was present at the scene and charged him with the crime.
Prior to the arrest, Jesus had no prior felonies or “gang activities”. On April 6th, 2012, Aguirre was charged as an adult and Orange County Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg sentenced Jesus to life in prison for the “premeditated attempted murder affiliated with a gang.”
Aguirre’s parents have since been trying to get a re-trial of the case.
Last Saturday, the busy Beach Boulevard where the police station is located was occupied by family and supporters armed with signs and banners demanding justice. Supporters included members from Colectivo Tonantzin, an indigenous and migrant workers rights organization, RAIZ, a Santa Ana-based youth group, and families of Anaheim police-involved shooting victims.
The crowd of people chanted as they marched around the intersection of Beach Blvd and Auto Center Dr near the Interstate 5 freeway. Many of the Buena Park residents driving by honked in support as more supporters joined the marching group. Some passers-by were in disbelief when they learned about Aguirre’s case.
Those who knew Jesus still can’t believe the sentencing. “He was the type of kid that never got in arguments with people, and was always looking out for people,” described a friend of Aguirre’s, “when I found out he got charged for this - if you knew him you would never think that because he never got into fights. If you ask anybody, he was just a friendly person and he had a lot of friends…and what they did was wrong.”
“He was just growing up, he was at the prime of his youth, the best years were ahead of him,” explained Aguirre’s cousin Jonathan, “Now they just cut it all off because this police department wants to label people as gang members, when they’re really not and not 100% sure of a case.”
The Tonantzin Collective, who has been assisting the Aguirre family, states that they are supporting the family’s demand for justice in the sentencing of their son. The collective explains that, “racial profiling, gang units, sentencing minors as adults and gang enhancements are part of the Prison Industrial Complex and part of a 500-year-old process of colonialism on this continent.”
During the action, Jesus Aguirre Sr. explained that the family is not only fighting for Jesus, but for other criminalized youth that find themselves in similar situations:
“We want to make sure people are aware of this case because just like my son’s case, there are many cases,” explained Jesus, Aguirre Sr. “I’m not doing this just for my son, but for all other cases like his. The police is criminalizing the youth, stopping them for any reason, especially those of Mexican origin.”
A petition requesting a re-trial or a case dismissal for Jesus has been circulating through social networking sites. With over 3,500 supporters, the petition is addressed to California Governor, Jerry Brown, and US Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein with a plea for justice for Jesus, who has been criminalized by being labeled as a “gang member” and who “does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.”